Ever since the dawn of the Computer Age, screenshots have been essential. Images showing software in action are used all over the web, on social media and in specialized magazines.
Blog about software, you’ll need screenshots. Putting together a useful how-to like this one, are we? Good, you’ll need even more screenshots.
Want to get your point across in an unambiguous manner? You’re definitely going to need memorable screenshots to illustrate your point effectively.
There are plenty applications, both paid and free, which allow you to grab screenshots, such as Skitch from Evernote, for example. But allow me to let you in on a dirty little secret: you don’t need any of them.
Assuming you’re in the vast majority of the population whose needs don’t go beyond grabbing screens, or are among the group that has no use for advanced annotation and image management capabilities, Apple has you covered.
I myself have never used a third-party app to grab screenshots. How’s so? Because OS X sports a compelling set of built-in shortcuts for taking different types of screen images in an instant, without having to even launch any kind of app.
Still, it’s surprising just how many folks are totally oblivious to the fact they can capture Mac screenshots. That being said, we’ve reckoned to do something about it.
This comprehensive tutorial will teach you how to take screenshots on your Mac like a pro and have fun in the process.
Before we dive into the subject, I’d just like to spend a few words talking about the basics to get you up to speed.
A screenshot is a picture of your Mac’s screen, or a portion of it. In Mac OS X 10.6 and later, screenshots get saved as image files in the PNG format, on the desktop. OS X automatically names them “Screen shot (date and time).png.”
Various types of screenshots are grabbed using a handful of easily memorizable keystrokes (more on that later). Have you changed your mind in the middle of the capture process and decided that you don’t really want to grab a screenshot? No problem, just press the Escape key before you release the mouse button.
And should you prefer to have screenshots saved in the system clipboard to paste the picture into a document, hold down the Control key while you press the screenshot-taking keystrokes.
And lastly, a word of caution: certain apps may hide copy-protected content by not allowing you to take pictures of the screen, such as DVD Player, QuickTime and iTunes.
How to screenshot your Mac
Before we get going, here is a summary of what we’re going to look at:
Table of contents
- How to capture the entire screen
- How to capture some of your screen
- How to capture a specific window
- How to take a screenshot of the Mac’s menu bar
- How to capture a menu
- How to capture a menu without the title
- Mastering the Grab app
- Screenshot-taking keyboard shortcuts
- Related articles
OK, here we go.
Step 1: This one’s a no-brainer. Just hit the ⌘-Shift-3 key combo simultaneously and OS X will capture a full-resolution image of whatever is displayed on the whole screen. Here’s a screenshot of my 5k Retina iMac desktop.
Tip: You can use the key combo to capture the whole screen at any time, even if you’re in the middle of dragging an item in Finder. Here I’ve captured my desktop whilst dragging the Messages app around.
Step 1: To capture a custom rectangular portion of the screen, use the ⌘-Shift-4 keystroke. This will turn the mouse pointer into a crosshair symbol like this.
Step 2: To select your capture area, first position the cursor in its upper left corner.
Step 3: Now hold down the mouse button, drag to define the rectangular area and release to capture. Here’s an example screenshot of iTunes on my desktop.
Can you see what’s wrong with this picture?
Yeah, the desktop wallpaper is visible in the background. Yes, I could have tediously restricted my capture area to the window boundaries.
That would have been of little help because windows in OS X have rounder corners, requiring additional steps in an image editing app to remove unwanted pixels.
Wouldn’t it be great if OS X allowed you to grab only an app window and nothing else?
Step 1: To capture a specific window, first hit ⌘-Shift-4 on the keyboard and then press the Space bar. The mouse pointer will turn into a camera symbol.
Step 2: Now move the camera pointer over the window to highlight it before pressing the mouse button. Voila! The image of the window – and window alone – is captured.
Here’s a screenshot of the Applications folder in a Finder window.
This works with open Finder windows, modal windows, panels and most app windows.
Tip: I’m willing to eat my hat if your desktop isn’t littered with multiple windows. OS X handles these types of scenarios with ease. You just move the camera pointer over a desired window – it doesn’t have to be in the foreground – press the mouse button and OS X will do the right thing.
Here you can see me capturing a Finder window that’s in the background, without bringing it to the foreground first.
Sometimes, you may want to grab specific parts of the Mac’s interface other than windows. For instance, you may want to capture an app’s menu or the Mac’s menu bar.
Worry not, Apple has you covered!
Step 1: Press ⌘-Shift-4 and then Space. Now drag the camera pointer to highlight the menu bar. Release the mouse button to capture.
Tip: To capture a screenshot of third-party and OS X system menu bar icons sitting in the right corner of the Mac’s menu bar, just move the camera pointer over a specific icon or an icon group and then click the mouse button.
Here’s a screenshot of Apple’s standard system icons.
As you can see for yourself, capturing the menu bar items removes the gray menu shade altogether, leaving you only with plain pictograms.
Step 1: First, you need to click the menu in order to reveal its contents.
Step 2: Next, press ⌘-Shift-4 and drag the camera pointer over a desired area. Release the mouse button to capture.
On the downside, this method requires pixel-perfect precision to ensure that the selection area includes only menu graphics. Fortunately, there’s a better way.
Step 1: Click the menu to reveal its contents.
Step 2: Now press ⌘-Shift-4 and then Space bar. Highlight the drop-down menu with the camera pointer, like this, and click the mouse button to capture.
This is what you’ll end up with.
Tip: If you author tutorials or how-tos, perhaps you want to emphasize a specific menu item? You can do that, too.
Simply highlight a menu item before hitting the ⌘-Shift-4 and Space bar combo. Above is Safari’s Safari menu with the “Safari Extensions…” option highlighted in grey.
Tip: If for some reason you want to delay the capture for a few seconds, use the stock OS X app called Grab – it’s in your Applications folder.
Available under Grab’s Capture menu, you can choose to grab a Selection, Window, Screen or Timed Screen.
After choosing Timed Screen and hitting the Start Timer button, Grab will capture the screen after ten seconds. The app offers other features that will take your screenshot-taking skills to the next level so it pays to spend some time with Grab to see how it works for you.
Grab offers eight custom pointers and lets you turn off the capture sound.
One of the great features about Grab that you don’t get when capturing screenshots via keystrokes is its pointer which shows pixel coordinates for ultimate control. It’s also cool that it lets you capture the whole screen with a custom pointer superimposed where you click.
To see information about the screenshot, choose Edit > Inspector. Note that Grab only saves screenshots in the TIFF format.
Capture the entire screen ― ⌘-Shift-3
Capture some of your screen ― ⌘-Shift-4, then drag the crosshair pointer over a desired area and release the mouse button. You can use one of the modifier keys below, or a combination of them, while dragging.
Modifier keys – For accurate control over the area selection, use one or more modifier keys listed below. After invoking either the ⌘-Shift-3 or ⌘-Shift-4 combo, start dragging the crosshair pointer to select your capture area. Now release the keys while continuing to press the mouse button and then hold one or more of the modifier keys. This will change how the selection area is being defined, as described below. When you’re ready to take a picture, release the mouse button.
Shift ― Resize the selection area only horizontally or vertically.
Option ― Resize the selection area from the center out.
Space bar ― Move the selection area around.
Capture to clipboard ― Hold down the Control key while you press the other keys to save the screenshot in clipboard so you can paste the image directly into a document.
Capture a specific window ― ⌘-Shift-4 then Space bar. Move the camera pointer over a window to highlight it and then click the mouse button.
Capture the Mac’s menu bar ― ⌘-Shift-4 and then Space bar. Now move the camera pointer to highlight the Mac’s menu bar and click the mouse button.
Capture a menu ― First click a menu to reveal its contents. Then hit ⌘-Shift-4, drag the crosshair pointer over a desired area and release the mouse button.
Capture a menu without the title ― Click the menu to reveal its contents. Hit ⌘-Shift-4 and then Space bar. Now move the camera pointer to highlight the pull-down menu and click the mouse button.
Cancel any screen capture in progress ― ESC before you click.
You can always bring up these shortcuts using the Mac’s built-in help.
Just type “screenshot” into the Finder’s Help menu and choose “Take pictures of the screen” from the list of available resources.
- How to change where screenshots are saved on the Mac
- How to change the image format for Mac screenshots
- How to add an iPhone or iPad template to your screenshots
- Spiffy up iOS screenshots with Screentaker for Mac
- ClipShot: improved screenshot management in iOS
- Snapper: a new way to take and manage screenshots in iOS
- ScreenshotPlus: pre-crop screenshots using a handy selection tool
- Boost your iOS screenshot-taking with the ‘Almpoum’ jailbreak tweak
I hope you find this tutorial helpful.
The old adage that a picture is worth a thousand words couldn’t be more true. With that in mind, let me once again emphasize that it pays to learn a few simple keystrokes to become the Master Screenshot-Taker.
As per usual, if you’ve stumbled upon related tips or have thought of another great idea for future how-tos, do drop us a line on tips@iDownloadBlog.com and we’ll take each and every one of your submissions into consideration for upcoming articles.
Want to know about a great app? Try Duet Display, an awesome app that turns your iPhone or iPad into an extra display for your Mac or PC. Get it now in the App Store.